Fun And Hugs Pack This Camp

The disabled have a blast at the annual Pasco Association for Challenged Kids summer event.
 
By STEVE KORNACKI of The Tampa Tribune
 
NEW PORT RICHEY -  Kimmy Tobias ran up to Barry Cohen, co-founder of the Pasco Association for Challenged Kids summer camp, and hugged him.
 
"Look, Mr. Barry!" she said. "Look at this."
 
Kimmy pointed to the freshly painted butterfly and heart on her right forearm and giggled with delight. She had just received the tattoos from Catch-Up the Clown, who entertained campers Tuesday morning at the CARES Claude Pepper Senior Center with a magic show and balloon animal creations.
 
"The best part of this is seeing these kids involved and having a good time," Cohen said. "That's the fun part."
 
The eighth annual PACK camp includes activities such as arts and crafts and games. Daily features have included Catch-Up, the New Port Richey firefighters with their spray hose fun, ice cream and pizza parties, a Pasco County sheriff's K-9 presentation, a water day with wading pools and sprinklers, bowling and a demonstration with a Tampa General Hospital Aeromed helicopter.

Thirty-five campers are attending this week, and many eagerly hug counselors during activities. Jordan Bailey, one of the biggest huggers, ran around the all-purpose room Tuesday repeating a trick she learned from Catch-Up.

 Jordan extended her index finger to touch noses and said, "Beep!"
 
Catch-Up had asked the campers, "Do you have a magic nose?" And then touched their noses while sounding a beep.
 
It was a PACK camp moment, the kind Cohen has cherished since beginning the summer program with his wife, Paula. He pointed to their 16-year-old son, Gregory, who was drawing at a table.
 
"Greg is the reason we started this whole thing," said Barry Cohen, an X-ray technician at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa. "He's autistic. We'd asked the schools about year-round activity for him. We ended up talking to Mike Fasano, and he was very receptive.
 
"Mike said we should start a nonprofit corporation. I said: "Are you crazy? I can't do that.' But we did, and we keep learning every day. But if not for Mike, we would not have this."
 
State Sen. Fasano and state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, both New Port Richey Republicans, have helped secure state funding for the program. PACK also receives donations from civic groups and Publix Super Markets.

 "It's important for physically and mentally challenged kids to have a summer camp, too," Fasano said. "They need one-on-one attention, and that's what PACK gives. But without Mr. and Mrs. Cohen, PACK would not exist. They are great people doing great work."

Fasano connected the Cohens with Emile Laurino, chief executive of the Center for Independence, in starting the camp.
 
"Teachers and aides in the public schools don't have to start from the bottom with these kids when school starts in August," Laurino said. "They would regress if not kept together in a program like this. This keeps them at a certain level.
 
"And the older kids in the program provide good role models for the younger ones."
 
Campers range in age from 5 to 22.
 
The summer camp has 18 counselors and a nurse for the medical needs, and special supervision ratios are required, driving up operating costs. Many of the counselors work in public schools and are familiar with some PACK participants.
 
Barb Konrad has been a counselor since 1998 and became assistant director before becoming camp director this summer. Her son, Greg, 15, has Down syndrome.
 
"My son came one year without me and then I decided to start working," Konrad said. "It's so much fun seeing the kids enjoy themselves here."
 
Reporter Steve Kornacki can be reached at (813) 731-8170.
 
IF YOU GO
 WHAT:  The PACK summer camp for Pasco County children with disabilities
 WHEN:  9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, through July 30
 WHERE:  CARES Claude Pepper Senior Center, 6640 Van Buren St., New Port Richey
 COST:  $50 per week per child
 CONTACTS:  Call Barry or Paula Cohen at (727) 372-9516 or visit www.pascopack.org.
  
Copyright � 2004, The Tampa Tribune. Reprinted with permission
Tribune photos by Andy Jones
Reprinted from The Pasco Tribune July 22, 2004 edition.